I am all for E book novels and most nonfiction, if that’s what enough people find more convenient to read for whatever reason. The way a piece of writing is read doesn’t change the essential nature of the writing itself – it’s still words, language, an author’s unique viewpoint; still a book; it’s still reading. It’s the quality of what is read that matters, not the way it’s done, as I am sure every primary school teacher of reading would agree on behalf of the children they are trying to encourage to love reading.
As a picture book specialist, though, I am worried about the size of the screen for showing illustrations to best advantage (and the same applies to art and coffee table books of course). It’s true that most artwork looks more brilliant and luminous on a computer screen, and presumably therefore also on a backlit E reader screen, but I can’t see illustrations designed for a print book – that is to be viewed at at least A4 page size, and very often at A3 size in double spreads – working at the smaller size of E readers. Double spreads are so important to the flow and unity of a picture book, for resting the eye and mind and for signalling the climax or the resolution, for example. To do without them as I think one would have to do in a picture book designed for E readers would be a big loss to my mind, and would have to change the nature of how a picture book works.
The other problem with picture books as E books is that they are so commonly a gift item for young children, traditionally from grandparents and aunts and uncles. A download can’t be wrapped up with ribbon and a card, and at what age do you trust a child with an expensive E reader anyway?
People often say that another problem with children’s E books, especially picture books, which are usually for younger children, is that they can’t be read sitting on the parent’s knee (the ‘snuggle up for a bedtime story idea’), but in fact it is of course perfectly possible for parent and child to read an E reader together, on the parent’s knees or when the child is in bed.
There is a lot of nostalgia expressed for the physical feel (and smell) of print books, and in the case of picture books, of the pleasure of turning the page to be rewarded with a new discovery at each turn. You do turn the page on an E reader and I think the experience of anticipation and discovery is the same. But because of the nostalgia, I think print books will still be produced for quite a long time to come, albeit with simultaneously published E book editions. Which gives people a choice of how they want to read the same content, and I can’t see anything wrong with that. To me it seems that it’s just another edition of the book, as in the difference between the paperback and the hardback – and there are some people who will only read hardbacks still…
I see enhanced E books differently. Again concentrating on children’s books, I am not sure where the line is between these being books or games, and I feel the same kind of mild disapproval of the game element as I did of the ‘Choose your own adventure’ series of books in the late 70s. I didn’t think of them as ‘real books’, in a pretty snobby way I guess, and I have the same kind of feeling about enhanced E books for kids, while nonetheless finding those I have seen so far pretty attractive and fun! So, I am conflicted on this one. And more and more convinced that there will be no point in producing ‘straight’ unenhanced E book versions of print books for children as they won’t be competitive with enhanced E books Which, as I said, for me, may not be ‘real books’ but games with a literary flavour! The distinguishing point is the role the reader’s imagination plays in responding to the words and, in the case of illustrated books, the images, and I think anything that preempts that (as enhanced E books must to some degree) is certainly changing the experience of reading, and, I suspect, diminishing it.